This is a start of something that will hopefully last for a long time, namely a multi-instalment column called Notes from Barcelona in partnership with mighty Punktastic, which for those of you unfamiliar with it, is an alternative rock / punk / hardcore / metal website, with news, reviews and the best in international new music. The feature will try to bring you the best (and the worst) from the local live music scene in the Catalan capital, which since a couple months also doubles as the place I now call home, thanks to a new employment I recently began down here. I’ll try and come out with one new blogpost every month touching upon a variety of topics, which I will lazily re-post on here 48 hours after the original publication over on Punktastic, sometimes with additional commentary or context here and there, other times through shameless copy-and-paste procedures deriving from the original source. Below is the first instalment, which had me attending glorious music festival Primavera Sound and reporting some of the best moments I experienced, all through a trademark Catalan reading lens.
Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.
Welcome to the first chapter of Notes from Barcelona, hosted by the Catalan capital’s newest expat: Alex Volonté. I’m honoured to be bringing you the most interesting and compelling aspects of the local alternative/punk music scene.
Since recently relocating here from London, I’ve been getting to know the musical pulse of the city and its region. Barcelona is in fact a rich and lively artistic hub. It has become increasingly attractive and forgiving to start ups and new creative businesses, especially in its modern, post-1992 Summer Olympics Diagonal Mar/22@ neighbourhood east of the city center. Furthermore, the city is home to major music festivals such as Sónar, Cruïlla, International Jazz Festival as well as global music trade conferences. It also lies just a short trip away from Cannes’ MIDEM, one of the world’s leading music industry events.
I couldn’t wait to explore Barcelona’s musical heritage first hand and find out for myself. That began with the most important live music festival in Spain, and one of the fastest-growing internationally: Primavera Sound.
The event, generally considered a strong incubator for the indie scene, and leading widespread efforts in pushing artistic boundaries with cutting-edge content programming, such as last-minute, real-time show announcements, took place this year from 31 May to 4 June.
Spreading out to a multitude of locations across the city, the festival was accompanied by its international trade conference arm, Primavera Pro, as has now become custom for the past seven editions. The main event was set in the astonishing sea-adjacent Parc del Fòrum, surrounded by a variety of aesthetically pleasing ornaments such as massive solar panels, elegant rafts, and beach strips, wonderfully wrapped up by a long perimeter of Mediterranean waters.
This year’s bill was headlined by Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The XX, and Aphex Twin, and from an alternative standpoint presented a very tasty line up of world-class punk-rock and metal bands including Slayer, Descendents, The Damned, Gojira, Converge, Death Grips, and Against Me!. I immediately knew Primavera was off to a good start when the first live rendition I heard was the visceral ‘Warning’ – third single from their 2014 album ‘LOSE’ – by festival openers Cymbals Eat Guitars, which made for a pretty beautiful induction into the whole experience. Speaking of which, I suggest you all take some time to revisit that whole LP as it’s one of 2014’s best ones and quite simply a sprawling and kaleidoscopic listen.
Yet, what attracted me even more was the rich Primavera offering of live shows by regional acts, most of which unsigned or simply championed by little or precarious local indie record labels. In retrospect, I’m so glad I did, as boy did I discover a variety of quality local outfits over the course of the festival.
In fact, a significant chunk of Primavera’s musical programming is intentionally devoted to delivering a spotlight on local Catalan musicians, an initiative brought forward by Catalan Arts, the Catalan Government’s Ministry of Culture umbrella term used to campaign in favour of local music. The Catalan Arts brand, besides working towards amplifying artistic outputs from the region of Catalonia internationally, with its overseas offices in Berlin, Brussels, London, and Paris, promotes and supports a big number of musicians throughout different markets on a regular basis. I thus made sure to pinpoint all those artists spanning genres from pop-punk to metalcore beforehand, trying my best not to miss them performing live within such an important platform for Barcelona’s prolific alternative movement as Primavera.
The festival’s scattered locations, as well as the unavoidable but still annoying line-up clashes, made it hard to catch everyone, however I came away from the festival with a juicy selection of a handful new music discoveries.
First on the list is the post-hardcore four-piece It’s Not Not, who delivered one of the most convincing live shows of the whole event with a direct, fun, and scintillating repertoire. Their live delivery blazed fierce emo influences and heavier moments, yet all minimalistically glued together by unpretentious and thin string sounds just sticking to bare bone basics. Their irresistibly catchy track ‘We’re Gonna Get Out’, for instance, from their latest effort ‘Fool the Wise’ (2016), could easily compete for major international hit status, although the highlights in their rollercoaster of a repertoire aren’t limited to that song alone.
Another one to bookmark, worthy of a proper listen, is About Leaving, a power alternative-emo quintet born and bred in the Catalan capital. Their live experience wasn’t helped by the fact that they got to play in a rather surreal setting of close to complete darkness whilst outside temperatures were on their way to hitting 30°C, all squeezed into a remote ballroom during the Primavera Pro conference. An early Jimmy Eat World meets Texas is the Reason, their set marched through long atmospheric bubbles and reigned by giant, skilled guitars (three in total in the band’s line up) and heavy-hitting drums. About Leaving’s debut album ‘An Echo’ came out last year, whilst elsewhere in their discography one also finds a rather pleasant Death Cab for Cutie tribute release track with a cover of ‘Passenger Seat’.
Yet there’s many more outfits worthy of closer attention, such as the fiery and vibrant Montseny-based Les Cruets, who released their debut LP ‘Pomes Agres’ through the eclectic, multi-genre Barcelona label Bankrobber. They offer an explosive punk assembly crafted with Catalan flair from start to finish, so make sure to check out album opener ‘Creure’ as well as the wild and relentless combo ‘Instantània’ and ‘Anem Perdent’ for a biting taste of what they’re made of.
Then there’s a personal favourite in Rebuig, a sludge metal quartet from the Barcelona underground scene, currently achieving noise and recognition on a national level with their filthy and experimental sound, instigating sonic fireworks somewhere in-between Slayer and Black Sabbath. Their latest EP ‘Mort i Futur’ came out in spring last year, and despite the predictably limited tracklisting it actually averages at a surprising album-like length, with the two opening songs ‘Penjat i Empalmat’ and ‘After al Pati de Llums’ both nearing the 10-minute mark. An instant grower for sure.
Finally, my last recommendation is Les Sueques, a girl-powered, colourful and rather lo-fi post-punk group who have been very active in the past half-decade and have just released their newest record ‘Moviment’ this past February under local label El Genio Equivocado.
One of the leading exponents of national garage indie, the electric and artsy four piece is also one of Barcelona’s biggest prides. Their latest, fully Catalan-sung LP seems to reaffirm their subtle flirt with big poppy vibes and it sounds just like it could’ve come out of the same writing sessions as Paramore’s latest ‘After Laughter’, for one. Don’t forget to give their oldest material a try too (2013’s ‘Cremeu les perles’ and ‘Educació física’ from 2015), as there’s no shortage of crunchy, blistering, and potent songs on those collections.
My personal baptism in the local music scene in Barcelona far from a disappointing one, with a rollercoaster of genres and emotions experienced during my first attendance at Primavera Sound. The schedule consisted of extremely long days, starting mid mornings at Primavera Pro and its live showcase programming lasting all the way through the night with last sets finishing shortly before the next day’s sunrise.
Whilst I couldn’t resist some of the bigger shows by more renowned acts – Cymbals Eat Guitars, Death Grips, and Descendents all in flawless form as far as I’m concerned – I quickly realized that Barcelona and its socio-cultural imprint is so much richer than just the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí, and FC Barcelona.
Fins la pròxima vegada!
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.